MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Tuesday criticized social media giant Facebook for failing to send a representative to a hearing on proposed measures against the abuse and exploitation of women and children online.
"These abuses are happening in plain sight for lack of a better term in these social media accounts. They're making money out of these activities and they could have at least sent a representative during our hearing," Sen. Francis Pangilinan said partially in Filipino.
"The least they could have done is appear here before the committee and explain their own policies. And it's most unfortunate that their absence here prevents us from getting their side."
The senator also scored social media platform Twitter which, along with Facebook, he called a "crime scene" of child abuse.
Sen. Pia Cayetano echoed Pangilinan, saying she found it "extremely disturbing" that Facebook skipped the hearing.
"You know, in other hearings, we hold in contempt these persons who are critical in our understanding of possible violations of certain rights," Cayetano said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate committee on women, confirmed that the panel sent an invitation to Facebook but received no response.
"We will ask them to provide an explanation for their absence and, yes, we will consider…holding them in contempt," she said.
Both Pangilinan and Cayetano urged that a separate hearing be held with the social media giants, with the latter noting that "they must be held accountable for the role that they play."
NBI: Require social media giants to report online abuse, exploitation to gov't
At the same hearing, lawyer Janet Francisco, chief of the NBI's anti-human trafficking division, confirmed to senators that "social media platforms like Facebook [have] been utilized by different syndicates especially in human trafficking activities."
"[W]e have observed that… there are a lot of child exploitation materials and also prostitution being promoted, not only in Facebook but also on Twitter and other social media platforms."
According to Francisco, Facebook reports to the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a non-profit established by US Congress in 1984. She urged senators to consider crafting a law that would mandate Facebook to make similar reports to the Philippine government as well.
Francisco said that even telcos are uncooperative with the NBI when it comes to cases of child abuse and exploitation.
Despite this, the lawyer said her division has not filed cases against Facebook, Twitter, or telcos, citing the need to gather more evidence.
Last month, several non-government organizations expressed alarm over the sharp increase in cases of exploitation and abuse of young people amid the coronavirus pandemic. — Bella Perez-Rubio
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